What does Theresa May's and Donald Trump's 'special relationship' really mean?
We all want to be special. Some people think they are special. Others think that rainbows and the uncompromising love of a mother for her child are special. However, if you’ve followed much of the coverage of Theresa May’s visit to America last month you’d be forgiven for thinking that there is nothing more special than “the special relationship”. So what’s so special about it? And what are its implications for Britain under the right-wing administration of Donald Trump and with Theresa May’s vision for Brexit? SPOILER ALERT: The implications are very special.
Theresa May’s political Hajj – what we learned about the latest chapter of the special relationship
Last month’s visit to America was an important moment in Theresa May’s career as unelected Prime Minister. By all accounts this possibly difficult encounter went quite well. And by “all accounts” I mean the Prime Minister’s press office and all media outlets that repeated these claims.
To be fair, Trump was charming by his usual standards, and the fact that he didn’t (publicly, at least) molest our Prime Minster is a huge win. Another success hailed by the May camp was Trump’s commitment to NATO, which he demonstrated by making absolutely no mention of a commitment to NATO. May’s bonus prize came on the topic of torture, where despite still thinking torture was a great idea, Trump said he would defer to his defence secretary, “MAD DOG” Mattis, on whether to make torture official policy. Presumably it’s exactly this sort of good behaviour that earned him his invitation of a “full English” state visit to the UK. Providing Trump with further opportunity to prove his worth by not (publicly, at least) molesting the Queen.
This is a sad and strange way of measuring the success of a state visit between supposedly equal partners. Many people were disappointed with May for not raising the concerns held by millions of her own citizens about the President’s overt misogyny or racism. To be fair, May made it clear before the visit that she wouldn’t be raising the issue of misogyny. To her, the mere fact that she has her very own vagina is a strong enough statement. Perhaps it was. If only her vagina was Muslim.
In all seriousness, the lack of spine demonstrated by May throughout this entire trip was as pathetic as it was unsurprising. The result of the EU referendum was a shocking blow to the government and has left Britain’s ruling elite at risk of becoming pariahs amongst global counterparts that are serious about the “free” movement of capital. We knew therefore, even before she flew out to America that a subservient special relationship would be well and truly back on the table - Britain’s dire need for a trade deal with America ensured this.
That being said, what did surprise even many of the members of May’s own party, was what happened the day after she left Trump. Her complete silence on the issue of the inhumane ban on all refugees, as well as Muslims from seven countries, showed that her interpretation of the special relationship is so extreme that she is no longer able to even pay lip service to basic human values. In stark contrast, we witnessed Merkel remind Trump of his nation’s obligations under the Geneva Convention on Refugees. We now see exactly how special the special relationship has become.
“Opposites attract” – but so do right wing governments that share the same values
With a far-right administration in the White House headed by a megalomaniac with a purported desire to accelerate nuclear weapon expansion, the implications of May’s pursuit of this extreme version of the special relationship are as unpredictable as they are scary. To even begin to fully appreciate what this may mean for the UK, it is important to first comprehend the real nature of our own government.
Theresa May might not be as crass or as obviously offensive as Trump but she shares many similarities, and her party represents the same kind of nasty politics that has propelled him to power. After a quick examination of May’s record a number of things become apparent: she has the same disdain as Trump for immigrants, refugees, public health care and the sanctity of human rights. Furthermore, over the past seven years, her Conservative party has implemented unprecedentedly brutal cuts that have disproportionately punished poor women and the disabled.
May had the choice of adopting a conciliatory tone with our European partners whilst pursuing an amicable departure from the EU. From her refusal to guarantee protection for EU nationals living and working in the UK, to her threats to turn our country into a giant tax haven off the coast of France, May has demonstrated a lack of decency and respect for our European counterparts. Perhaps inspired by Trump, she has bet her career on the importance of appeasing the now buoyant far right elements of her party and the press.
Most Conservative voters would claim to be abhorred by the prospect of UKIP being in charge of our nation. But by fanning the flames of a perverse immigration debate and appropriating UKIP’s rhetoric and ideology, our unelected Prime Minister has laid darkness where there once may have been at least some daylight between the Conservatives and the party in which Nigel Farage belongs. May’s “strategy” has received praise from many commentators for its pragmatism. This is a short-sighted outlook that overlooks dangerous populist politics, coming from a position of weakness rather than strength - no good can come of it. It has already damaged our reputation and isolated us at a time when we should be doing our best to cooperate with the international community.
With the prospect of a unilateral trade deal with an isolated and weakened UK, Trump has good reason to believe there’s a lot more than “pussy” up for grabs. The NHS, workers’ rights, and the sovereignty of our courts to rule against American corporations that may damage our environment or harm our citizens, are but a few examples. As for what wars or other adventures he may drag us into? It’s anyone’s guess.
So now what? Keep an eye on Trump but our real fight is here at home
If you agree with even half of what has been said in this article, don’t just “like” and share with your friends (although, definitely do that). We are at an important juncture in the history our country and the wider world. After a time of what felt like ever increasing pessimism amongst various progressive movements, we are seeing people from all over the political spectrum unite against a common enemy, in defence of common values.
It may be early days but it does seem as if my colleague at the Griot, Abraham Anansi, was correct when he proposed that Trump’s inauguration could act as a “bitter antidote for Western apathy to what should already have been an unpalatable status quo”. We have already seen millions of people around the world take to the streets in defiance of Trump’s misogyny and tens of thousands of people descend on Downing Street on two occasions, in protest at our government’s cowardice in the face of his “Muslim ban. In reaction to this, millions more have signed a petition to prevent Trump’s visit to the UK. People are right to be appalled and we should all protest - if he comes here, we should all be ready.
But remember, Trump is more than just a theatrical American villain on the news that we love to hate. He is the product of a system that exploits the fears of the poor and disenfranchised, for the interest of the rich and powerful. That same system exists here and has done so for a long time. Take a good look at the society we live in – from the thousands of working poor dependent on food banks to survive, to an NHS being strangled to death - and I’m sure you’ll find many things that will appal you.